Despite the ongoing political smoke-blowing about keeping American jobs in America, more and more U.S. tech companies are starting to see the value of high-quality software engineers in nearshore countries. Not least of these is Mexico, a rapidly developing nation that is producing globally competitive software engineers at an unprecedented rate.
Practically speaking, there is a fairly simple way to employ engineers from Mexico to work for you in the U.S. Following the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), special economic and trade relationships were created between the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Resulting from NAFTA is the TN non-immigrant classification, which permits qualified Mexican citizens to seek temporary work in the U.S.
There are of course a number of prerequisites that both employer and candidate must meet in order to qualify for the TN visa, so we’ve compiled a plain-English guide to acquiring it.
Step One: Check if the Job is a TN Occupation
Firstly, it’s important that you first determine whether the job is an acceptable TN occupation. There are 63 occupations in total, including engineer (which includes software engineer), computer systems analyst, graphic designer, management consultant, and technical publications writer. A full list of jobs can be found by clicking here.
Note: It is very important to make sure that applicants are offered software engineer roles as opposed to “web developer” or “programmer”, as most agents will look for those differences when determining whether or not to grant the TN visa.
Step Two: Offer the applicant a job
Next up, give the applicant the good news and offer them a job. This involves writing an official job offer letter that details a contract term not exceeding three years.
If the applicant themselves is processing the visa, you will need to provide them with this letter to get the ball rolling, otherwise, pass it on to the third-party legal firm or specialist that is assisting in the process.
The letter must include details of the salary, start date, end date, job title, and job description, as well as being physically printed and sent to the applicant on company letterhead.
Note: Although the TN Visa lasts for a maximum of three years, it can still be renewed indefinitely.
Step Three: Ensure that the candidate meets the TN requirements.
The applicant must prove that they qualify for the minimum education requirements or alternative credentials of the TN occupation they are applying for. This means they must have a Baccalaureate or Licenciatura degree in a field related to the occupation.
In most cases, these qualifications must be evaluated by a specialist to determine if the equivalent U.S. grades and education levels meet the requirements. One such evaluation agency is World Education Services, which has a free Degree Equivalency Tool on their site, as well as offering more comprehensive assessment services. This evaluation can take around seven working days and will result in an official degree equivalency letter, which is required for the application.
Note: In most cases, an individual may not qualify for TN visa status based on experience. Only the scientific technician, management consultant, and disaster relief insurance claim adjuster categories allow eligibility based on experience alone.
Step Four: Provide Supporting Documents to the Applicant
As well as the job offer letter in step one, the company must also provide the applicant with a supporting document that includes a company description and a job description.
The company description must explain details about the business, including number of employees and basic financials. The job description should be an accurate breakdown of duties based on the applicant’s responsibilities.
Step Five: Applicant should Gather their Documents
Once the above steps are complete, it’s time for the applicant to apply. Here’s a checklist of the documents they should have before beginning the final stages:
- Signed job offer and company description/job description details
- Copies of applicant’s diplomas and transcripts
- A copy of the applicant’s cedula professional (professional license) if applicable
- Equivalent studies letter, provided by the qualifications assessment agency
In addition to preparing these documents, individuals must also electronically file a DS-160 application before booking the appointment. This form can be found on the U.S. Department of State website here.
Step Six: Apply and Attend the Interview
Applicants should apply for a TN visa directly at a U.S. embassy or consulate in Mexico. In most cases, they need to submit their documents at a local Application Support Center, and then schedule an interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate.
The fee for the interview is $160 USD. They will review the documents, confirm that the right professional qualifications are in place, and ask about the work that the applicant will be doing in the U.S. If they are happy with everything, the applicant will receive a visa stamp in their passport. If not, the whole process will have to be restarted (including an additional interview fee).
Step Seven: Approval and Entry
Once Mexican applicants are approved for a TN visa, they must then apply for admission at certain Customs & Border Protection (CBP)-designated U.S. ports of entry, or at a designated pre-clearance/pre-flight inspection station. This depends on where the applicant is going in the U.S., so the immigration officer during the first interview will be the best source of advice for this location.
If the border interview goes smoothly, a CBP Officer will then issue an I-94 card alongside the existing visa stamp in the applicants passport. While it is valid for three years, the visa must still be renewed every 12 months.
Note: These basic steps for acquiring a TN visa are intended to point applicants in the right direction and are subject to change by U.S. immigration authorities, so be sure to conduct additional research when applying.
Has your company hired any Mexican candidates through the TN visa? Are you a candidate currently applying? Share your experiences in the comments.